Rodney Jacobs Jr. is promising a focus on “dinner-table issues” as he seeks a Broward County seat in the Florida Senate, the first time he’s run for a political office.
His candidacy sets up an intense, yearlong contest with an experienced former elected official, Barbara Sharief, who has won multiple campaigns in much of the territory encompassed by the 35th State Senate District.
Both are Democrats running in an area — in southern and western Broward — in which the primary winner is the heavy favorite to win and go to Tallahassee and serve as a member of the minority party in the Republican-controlled state Senate. The 35th District seat is open because term limits prevent incumbent state Sen. Lauren Book from running again in 2024.
Jacobs said he wants to prioritize the kind of concerns his family and friends talk about.
“It’s things that allow us to raise our families. It’s day care costs. It’s insurance rates for our home. It’s property taxes. It’s finding affordable care, meals. It’s sustainable rent costs, things of that nature. Those really will be at the forefront of this campaign for me because it affects pretty much everything.”
He said in an interview he hopes to motivate voters by providing something fresh.
“I’m hoping to give a vision of hope and inspiration. I think over the last year and a half we’ve seen the Democratic Party really misstep here or there. And I think in large part that’s due to not having inspiring candidates. And so I’m hoping to be a candidate that only puts out good policy and good law, but also inspires people,” he said.
The 35th state Senate District lies mostly south of Interstate 595 and west of Florida’s Turnpike, entirely within Broward County. Its registered voters are 42% Democratic, 33% no party affiliation/independent, 23% Republican, and 2% minor parties.
Jacobs, 33, is currently the executive director of the Miami Civilian Investigative Panel, a government agency that investigates complaints about alleged police misconduct in the city’s police department.
He is also a captain in the Army Reserve and company commander of a unit in Sanford.
Sharief, 51, is founder of a home health agency, South Florida Pediatric Homecare.
She is also a former Broward County Commissioner who was twice chosen by fellow commissioners to serve one-year terms as county mayor and a former Miramar city commissioner.
Sharief has lost her two most recent races. In 2021, she lost a special Democratic congressional primary and in 2022 she lost a state Senate race to Book.
Both live in Miramar. Sharief has three children. Jacobs has one child, and he and his wife are expecting a second early next year.
And both candidates have multiple degrees. Jacobs has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Hiram College and a law degree from the University of Dayton, both in Ohio. He also has two University of Miami master’s degrees, one in public health and another in public administration.
Sharief has a doctorate in nursing practice from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing and advanced registered nurse practitioner certification, all from Florida International University and an associates’ degree in nursing from Miami Dade College.
Sharief announced her candidacy a year ago, just three weeks after she received 39.7% of the vote in the August 2022 election to Book, who received 60.3%. (Though the voting was held the same day as the primary, it was open to all voters because no Republican came forward to run for the seat.)
It was the most bitterly fought — hugely expensive and highly negative — summer contest in Broward last year.
Sharief’s challenge to Book, the Democratic Party leader in the state Senate, angered many in the party. It forced Book to spend money and time on her own reelection contest in Broward County, rather than travel the state campaigning and raising money for other Democrats. Book supporters thought Sharief should have waited until 2024, because the seat would come open because of term limits.
State Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami-Dade Democrat who represents most of East Broward, was an outspoken critic of Sharief’s challenge of Book. Pizzo, who is set to succeed Book as party leader after the 2024 election, said he and the Democratic Senate campaign apparatus would be neutral in the Aug. 20, 2024, primary.
Sharief has assembled a wide-ranging list of supporters for her 2024 campaign — including some people who sided with Book or other past election opponents.
There’s lingering animosity between the Book and Sharief camps.
Jacobs said he has spoken to Book about the race but neither she nor her father, the prominent lawyer-lobbyist Ron Book, got her to run. “No one recruited me.”
Jacobs said he’s starting with a significant job, state senator, for his first run at elective office for two central reasons. Jacobs said he likes his job — he said he’d go on leave during legislative sessions and would take time off during the height of the campaign next year — and wouldn’t be able to remain working for the city of Miami and as a commissioner in Miramar if he ran and was elected.
He also said his interest, and the area he sees the best chance to prove effective, is on state issues such as education, health care, insurance and environmental sustainability. “The issues that really affect the people of our district and that keep me up at night are state issues.”
“I want to be a senator really as an outgrowth of just the work that I already do,” he said. “This seems like the most natural step at a time where I feel like the state needs it the most.”
And he said his background has prepared him to serve as a Democrat in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
“Not only do I relate to these issues directly, but I feel like I have the vision and the necessary skill set in order to effectuate them in a way that’s collaborative and allows for a level of sustainability,” he said.
“Currently in the work that I do in police oversight, typically when I go into the room, I’m the least liked individual. I’m in the room with police executives and police unions and typically they have all the keys. But I’m able to operate and communicate in a way that I ensure people that we’re on the same team,” Jacobs said. He said he’d put “that same mindset” into working with Republicans.
Jacobs and Sharief might not be the only candidates for the job.
Chad Klitzman, who narrowly lost the Democratic nomination for Broward Supervisor of Elections in 2020, said this week he is still considering becoming a Senate candidate.
“I’ve been having very positive discussions about it with folks in the community and will make a final decision in the next couple of weeks,” Klitzman said via text.
Two other candidates who had considered candidacies, state Reps. Robin Bartleman of Weston and Marie Woodson of Hollywood, both Democrats, said this week they were seeking reelection to the House of Representatives and would not run for Senate.
“Right now I’m staying in my rep race — unless something crazy happens,” Bartleman said.
Both said they want to concentrate on increasing the number of Democrats in Tallahassee, where they’re vastly outnumbered by Republicans, instead of giving up their current posts to do battle with another member of their own party.
“I made the decision that I want us to get more seats. If we keep going at each other, that increases the chances of our losing more seats,” Woodson said. “We have to look at the big picture. I’m committed to serving the people of (House) District 105, which is what I was elected to do.”
The Sharief-Jacobs contest will be expensive.
Sharief has spent heavily in recent elections and has the resources to do so again.
In the 2021 special congressional primary, she put in $803,500 of her own money. In the 2022 state Senate primary, she put in $630,000 of her own money (and received contributions of $39,800 from others). So far, she has put $45,700 of her money into the 2024 campaign (and received contributions of $31,100 from others).
The financial disclosure Sharief filed in connection with last year’s election showed she had a net worth of $6.4 million as of Dec. 31, 2021.
Jacobs said he hopes to raise between $650,000 and $1 million for the primary campaign.
He said he still has student loans and is “not independently wealthy.”
Asked if Book or her father, who is a major political fundraiser, would help him raise campaign money, Jacobs said he didn’t know. “I don’t know. I hope so. I don’t have any commitments from them, ” Jacobs said.
He said he would prioritize raising money during the final months of 2023.
“I think one of the best ways to raise money is to sit down and listen to people and hear them talk, hear about their issues and by that connection, just like anything else, they’re willing to invest in that vision.”
Anthony Man can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be found @browardpolitics on Facebook, Threads.net and Post.news.